Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Sidney Malunga

Sidney laughs and the whole world laughs with him – it’s infectious, a deep rumble, slow and satisfying.
   He’s doing it to reassure those in the car with him, after announcing before we got in that his life has been threatened again.
   “These people,” he grins, “must realise that I am not afraid of death – it’s debt that kills me.”
   His driver, Jacob*, clicks his tongue in mock disgust and chuckles too. He tells me afterwards that if he is to die with anyone, he can’t think of a better person than Mr Sidney Malunga, MP.
   Mervyn isn’t so sure – he sits beside me in the back of the government issue sedan, nervously fidgeting with his camera but managing to raise a comic-shock eyebrow at me. I scan the way ahead and glance over my shoulder but we’re alone on this road to McDonald Bricks, 15 miles outside Bulawayo.
   We are en route to the massive kilns to get a story for the next edition of The Radar Link, monthly house journal of the Radar Group. Sidney, a sitting ZANU-PF Member of Parliament, is also contracted to manage Radar’s public relations.
   To understand why a senior official in the all powerful ruling party of Zimbabwe should be in the shadow of the assassin, some context is necessary.
   When Zimbabwe gained independence on April 18, 1980, two parties came to democratic prominence. These were the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe and, put in very simple terms, largely supported by the dominant Shona tribe; and the Patriotic Front – Zimbabwe African People’s Union (PF-ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo and representing the Ndebele people, the indigenous minority in the southern part of the country, Matabeleland. At this point, Sidney Malunga was Chief Whip for the latter, PF-ZAPU. 
   These were the political wings of ZIPRA and ZANLA respectively, liberation armies that presented an uneasy but united front in the protracted guerrilla war against the forces of Ian Douglas Smith’s Rhodesian regime. But the end of that war was not to usher in the era of peace and prosperity promised at Bob Marley’s Independence Day concert in Harare. Instead, it would see more blood shed than could be soaked up even by the thirsty soil of Matabeleland – the part of the country from which Sidney’s people hail.
   When ZANU swept to power with a landslide victory at the polls, ZIPRA combatants saw any promise of a share in the spoils of war snatched away from them. Instead, they faced an uncertain future under the jackboot of their long-time tribal rivals. Those not yet tired of killing retrieved their AK-47s, bazookas and grenades from hidden caches and launched an ill-conceived offensive.
   One of Mugabe’s maiden acts as the first democratically elected Prime Minister (soon to be President), was to welcome to Zimbabwe his generous backers, the leadership of the Democratic Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.